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LINGUIST List 24.2485

Tue Jun 18 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Phonetics; Phonology; Spanish: Núñez Méndez (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 29-Apr-2013
From: Alice Krause <akrausealbany.edu>
Subject: Fundamentos de fonética y fonología española
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-4183.html

AUTHOR: Eva Núñez Méndez
TITLE: Fundamentos de fonética y fonología española
SUBTITLE: Manual práctico de español como lengua extranjera. Nivel: Avanzado
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Coursebooks in Linguistics 13
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Alice Krause, State University of New York at Albany


This book is a manual for speakers of American English learning Spanish as a second language (L2). The goal of the book is to assist students in their pronunciation of Spanish and its dialects. The author recommends the book, written in Spanish, for advanced classes on Spanish phonetics and phonology, particularly for those classes that occur in trimesters or quarters. The emphasis is on providing practical knowledge presented in a structuralist framework. There are nine chapters, each of which ends with questions and pronunciation and transcription exercises.

Chapter 1 is a brief introduction in which the author defines the field of linguistics and its subfields. In order to define linguistics, the author focuses equally on what linguistics is and what it is not. The author then lists and defines linguistic subfields. The chapter ends with questions that ask for definitions and explanations of key terms.

Chapter 2 defines the concept of language and reviews the history of language. The book takes on a generative perspective, in which language is a system of signs with which humans are born (11). The author describes the characteristics of human speech, differentiating it from non-human communication. The remainder of the chapter offers a brief account of the history of human language before ending with questions pertaining to key terms, and topics for discussion.

Chapter 3 provides a history of modern linguistics. The chapter follows three main phases of modern linguistics: the historical-genetic phase of the 19th century, the descriptive phase of the beginning of the 20th century, and the universalist approach taken in the last half of the 20th century. The chapter then describes the parts of the brain involved in language processing before concluding with questions and topics for discussion.

Chapter 4 focuses on the relationship between orthography and pronunciation. The author begins by discussing grapheme-phoneme correspondence, which is relatively direct in Spanish. Syllabification and accentuation are discussed in order to explain the placement of orthographic accents. Diphthongs and hiatus are defined in the context of glide pronunciation and assigning orthographic accent marks. A discussion of rhythm and intonation follows. At the end of the chapter, there are syllabification, accentuation, and pronunciation exercises. Following the exercises, there is a list of comparisons dealing with the relationship between orthography and pronunciation in Spanish and English.

Chapter 5 covers Spanish phonology. The chapter begins by defining the term ‘phoneme’ and the linguistic subfield of ‘phonology.’ The author lists the phonemes of Spanish, describes minimal pairs, and gives examples from Spanish. She defines complementary and defective distribution of the different realizations of phonemes and then defines the concepts of phoneme neutralization and the archiphoneme. The chapter ends with questions and phonemic and orthographic transcription exercises. There is also a list of comparisons between English and Spanish phonology. For example, Spanish has a higher degree of grapheme-phoneme correspondence than English. The author also points to the fact that English affricates are phonemes, while in Spanish, the same sounds are allophones of the phoneme /y/.

Chapter 6 covers Spanish phonetics. The chapter begins by explaining how sound is produced and describing the sound producing organs. Labeled diagrams of the chest and oral cavities are provided. The author then lists Spanish allophones and their distributions. The consonant sounds are presented according to manner and point of articulation and the voiced/voiceless distinction. The vowel sounds are also presented, followed by a description of glides. Vowels are distinguished according to frontness/backness, height, and roundness. Glides are classified according to their position relative to the syllable nucleus. Pre-vocalic glides are classified as semi-consonants and are transcribed as [j] and [w], while post-vocalic glides are classified as semi-vowels and are transcribed as [i̭] and [ṷ]. The chapter ends with questions, along with transcription and pronunciation exercises. There is also a list of comparisons between the Spanish and English sound systems. For example, the author points out the aspiration of voiceless stops in syllable initial position in English, which does not occur in Spanish. The author also mentions the consonant allophones of Spanish that do not occur in English, such as the velar fricative [x] and the trilled variant of [r].

Chapter 7 describes phonological variation in Spanish. The discussion begins with the phonemes /y/, /ʎ/, and /θ/ and their dialectal distribution. Phonotactic processes are also presented. The difference between phonetic and phonological transcription is explained, with examples provided. The chapter ends with questions and phonetic and phonological transcription exercises.

Chapter 8 covers Spanish dialectology. The author describes two major dialect areas in Spain: Castilian and Andalusian. The Castilian dialect is characterized by the distinction between the phonemes /θ/ and /s/, while this distinction is not prevalent in the Andalusian dialect. Among other differences, another factor in differentiating these two dialect zones is the presence of lleísmo (the distinction between /ʎ/ and /y/) in Castilian Spanish that does not occur in Andalusian. Next, Latin American Spanish is described according to features that differentiate dialect zones (e.g. loss or aspiration vs. maintenance of /s/, pronunciation of liquids, lleísmo vs. yeísmo, use of ‘voseo,’ etc.). Spanish in the United States is discussed in the context of its contact with English. Some of the consequences of contact between Spanish and English mentioned in the chapter are lexical borrowings and code switching. Finally, the chapter ends with a set of questions.

Chapter 9 offers cues for American English speakers to improve their Spanish pronunciation. Potential pitfalls of both vowel and consonant pronunciation are pointed out. For example, the author highlights the fact that unstressed vowels do not reduce to schwa as they do in English. Students are also reminded not to aspirate syllable initial voiceless stops. The author also points out that <h> is a silent grapheme in Spanish. Many other pointers follow, with lists of words provided to practice pronunciation. This chapter does not include a separate section of questions. Instead, students are directed to Chapter 4 for sentences with which to practice their pronunciation.

The book ends with a bibliography containing work on Spanish phonology and general phonology. There is also a glossary of linguistic terms, and appendices showing the phonetic alphabet, symbols used in the book, and the consonant and vowel allophones of Spanish.


The author recommends the book for a trimester or quarter length course. This recommendation may be based on the length of the book, as the nine chapters cover about 100 pages. The book on its own would not be long enough for a semester length course. With suggestions for further reading added to each chapter, this book, in conjunction with supporting articles or book chapters, could be the text for a semester length course. As it is written entirely in Spanish, it would be appropriate for advanced L2 learners of Spanish. Furthermore, although it targets native speakers of American English, it would also be appropriate for heritage speakers or Spanish-English bilinguals, especially with a few additions or footnotes appropriate for this population. With such additions, the book would be applicable to most students in a Spanish phonetics and phonology class of any duration.

While the book targets speakers of American English, comparisons between English and Spanish are not fully integrated in the text. Chapters 4-6 offer a list of comparisons between Spanish and English at the end of each chapter. However, these lists could be integrated into the chapters for a more organized and cohesive presentation. Saving the contrastive information and presenting it in a list at the end of the chapter alienates the practical information from any detail presented in the body of the chapter. Additionally, the chapters on phonetics and phonology should be longer and more contrastive. Finally, while the points of comparison are well-chosen, they should be illustrated with more examples, diagrams, and phonetic detail.

The purpose of the book is to present the principles of Spanish phonetics and phonology to American English speakers and to provide them with practical knowledge to improve their pronunciation. However, Chapter 9 is the only chapter that deals specifically with the aim of aiding L2 learners with their pronunciation. This chapter points to possible sources of interference for English speakers. These observations could have been integrated into the text of the other chapters, thus making the presentation more cohesive. Alternatively, this chapter could have been placed directly following the chapters on the sound system and sound production. Furthermore, the chapter on dialectology (Chapter 8) interrupts the phonetic and phonological information provided in the other chapters.

The book offers clear and concise definitions of key phonological concepts, which arms students with the necessary vocabulary to discuss and further investigate phonology in Spanish. However, some terms are used before they are formally presented. For example, the term ‘phoneme’ is used in Chapter 4, but its definition is not given until Chapter 5. Since this is a book of fundamentals, it is not wise to presume any previous knowledge on the topic.

The only definition found to be contentious in the book is that of glides, which has been a general point of debate in Spanish phonology. The explanation of glides offered here does not follow the description of glides in other research-based textbooks such as Hualde (2005), Colina (2008), and Schwegler, Kempff & Ameal-Guerra (2010). In these works, there is no differentiation between pre- and post-vocalic glides concerning their consonant or vocalic status. The author states, in Chapter 6, that pre-vocalic glides are semi-consonants and that post-vocalic glides are semi-vowels. This differentiation seems unmotivated and does nothing to enhance the explanation of gliding in Spanish. The explanation should do its best to concur with leading work in the field.

The questions at the end of the chapters allow students to check their comprehension and to confirm their knowledge of important concepts. In addition to the definitions, there are lengthy examples of both phonetic and phonological transcription. These examples provide guides for students when doing their own transcriptions. There are also discussion questions and topics that go beyond the material in the chapters. As suggested above, providing recommendations for further reading could inform these questions and enhance the utility of the book. As it stands, addressing some of the discussion questions necessitates further reading or information that is not provided. The discussion questions should lead to interesting debate, as they are well constructed and touch on important current issues in the field, as well as commonly held misconceptions concerning language use.

In comparison to other available books commonly used in undergraduate Spanish phonetics and phonology classes (with which this reviewer is familiar), the text is lacking in overall breadth and detail. ‘The Sounds of Spanish’ (Hualde 2005) and ‘Fonética y fonología españolas’ (Schwegler, Kempff & Ameal-Guerra 2010) are textbooks intended for semester length courses for English speaking students. To accommodate a semester length course and to encompass a greater amount of detail, these books are approximately 300-400 pages in length and are divided into a greater number of chapters. Vowels and consonants are divided into separate chapters, and there are individual chapters for each mode of consonant articulation. Comparisons between Spanish and English are integrated directly into the text as chapter subsections. In addition to questions and exercises at the end of each chapter, both texts offer voice recordings (online or on CD) to provide students with authentic pronunciations of Spanish sounds. Dialectology, including Spanish in the United States, is covered in various chapters and the authors also point students to other academic sources for further reading. However, these texts do not situate the subfields of phonetics and phonology within the larger field of linguistics, as Núñez Méndez does in the book under review here.

Overall, this book carries out its purpose of assisting American English speakers with their Spanish pronunciation. Students gain knowledge of fundamental phonetic and phonological traits of Spanish, and this knowledge should help them identify and reproduce sounds in Spanish. As the author states, this book does seem best suited for a trimester or quarter length course. However, with the additions and improvements to the organization mentioned above, this book would be suitable for a semester length course with a broader student population.


Colina, Sonia. 2009. Spanish phonology: A syllabic perspective. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Hualde, José Ignacio. 2005. The sounds of Spanish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schwegler, Armin, Juergen Kempff & Ana Ameal-Guerra. 2010. Fonética y fonología españolas, 4th edn. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


Alice Krause recently earned her PhD in Spanish linguistics at the University at Albany (SUNY), where she is also a lecturer. Her research interests lie in second language acquisition, particularly interlanguage phonology. She is currently researching the acquisition of Spanish diphthongs by speakers of American English.

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